14 August 2009
At the movies: District 9.
After being consecutively blindsided by two stinkers which tried to excuse their own craptitude by meekly saying that escapist explosive-oriented toy-generated spectacles were their own reason for existing, audiences will find the pleasures of District 9 to be a buffet of everything a moviegoer could want.
It’s a SciFi action film with awesome guns and great creatures, it’s an allegorical examination of national responses to otherness (that the film is South African in origin is rather remarkable, though at no point is the word Apartheid ever mentioned), it’s a deadpan funny mockumentary (a colleague calls this aspect of the film “The Office, but with aliens”), it’s a foreign film with a hefty portion of subtitled alien or Afrikaans dialogue, it’s a hero story of a middle-management corporate lackey (the exceptionally good Sharlto Copley) who gets put in the middle of an untenable situation and overcomes his own prejudices (and even learns a few lessons) while at the same time expanding his own definitions of the world, it’s a gory Cronenbergian nightmare of alienation from one’s own body (and sometimes the alienation of one’s head from one’s body), and it’s a political issue film as well.
If you took I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang, The Fly, Alien Nation, Sarafina!, and Robocop, then Brundleflied them together, you might get District 9, but why take that chance. Director Neill Blomkamp (and Executive Producer Peter Jackson) have made something that, while fulfilling all obligations of the summer blockbuster (including precocious brilliant child character- though he has multiple mandibles and a chitinous carapace- and a love story derailed by betrayal) still manages to give the audience a more expansive experience.
It’s like watching a social interest documentary, a grindhouse splatter flick, and a family drama all at the same time. And if by its end, the film feels almost exhausting, it has a style and ambition that is to be lauded. If nothing else, there’s now no excuse for filmmakers to say that big summer cinema has to be brainless.